US negotiators to return to China next week: Official

AFP , Tuesday 19 Mar 2019

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will return to Beijing next week as the United States and China inch toward resolving their trade war, a senior administration official told AFP on Tuesday.

The renewed shuttle diplomacy is a sign of progress in the talks after several weeks in which momentum toward a resolution appeared to have slowed.

Following the renewed talks in Beijing, Chinese trade envoy Liu He will return to Washington the following week, with talks in their final stages, The Wall Street Journal reported.

US President Donald Trump told reporters the meetings were going "very well," reiterating the positive message of recent months.

But Trump also said last week that he was in "no rush" to strike a bargain, insisting any deal had to do more than make cosmetic changes, while also saying an outcome one way or the other was likely to occur in "three to four weeks."

US and Chinese officials in recent weeks have alternated between projecting optimism and warning that they have much to do before reaching a final outcome.

On Friday, China's rubber-stamp parliament approved a foreign investment law to strengthen protections for intellectual property -- a central US grievance -- but foreign businesses said they were not given enough time to add input.

- Far-reaching changes -

The bill will eliminate the requirement for foreign enterprises to transfer proprietary technology to Chinese joint-venture partners and protect against "illegal government interference" -- major sticking points in the trade negotiations.

Word of the new round of talks helped lift Wall Street after stock prices had begun to sag following reporting by Bloomberg that some US officials said China was reneging on earlier trade concessions.

US officials are demanding far-reaching changes to Chinese industrial policy -- including an end to massive state intervention in markets, subsidies and the alleged theft of American technology -- and insist that any agreement must be enforceable.

China has been willing to increase purchases of American commodities such as energy and soybeans but analysts say they will be reluctant to accede to American demands in ways that could weaken the communist party's hold on power -- such as fully exposing state enterprises to market forces.

The two sides have exchanged tariffs on more than $360 billion in bilateral trade. Lighthizer has declined to state publicly whether Washington would lift the tariffs it has imposed so far if both sides reach a deal.

In congressional testimony last week, he said China and the United States were reaching the end of the road but he stopped short of predicting success.

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